The founder and CEO of the Top Blokes Foundation, Melissa Abu-Gazaleh says if there are men in Australia supporting the group ‘Return of Kings’, it shows there is still so much education needed.
“The most effective way to address this is through peer-led mentoring for young men, so they can ask questions without fear of judgment and don’t feel as though they’re being lectured to, as in a typical education setting.”
Melissa shares Australian of the Year, David Morrison’s sentiment of working towards a more equal Australia.
“Gender equality is not just a female issue. The burden should not fall on females to achieve gender equality,” says Melissa. “Gender equality can only be achieved when a discussion and solution is reached amongst men and women. It’s time for more light to be shed on the role of men in building gender equality.”
Melissa Abu-Gazaleh founded the Top Blokes Foundation in 2006 when she was only 19. Fresh from completing high school, Melissa was looking for a way to mentor youth. She found that while there were numerous programs designed to empower young women, there were significantly less opportunities for boys, despite males being over-represented in youth crime, alcohol-related violence and mental health statistics.
Melissa says she established the Top Blokes Foundation because “when we invest in boys, we change the course of our future as a cohesive and equal society. Working with thousands of young men has taught me this, when we educate boys on the current state of gender relations, it is here that we can empower them to stand up to address any gender discriminations that they witness.”
Top Blokes has now been in operation for almost ten years and helps 1,400 males aged 14-24 each year through peer-mentoring and social education programs. Melissa oversees a team of 14 people, all dedicated to improving the lives of the youth of tomorrow.
Keaton James is a graduate of the Top Blokes program and is now a Top Blokes Youth Ambassador, inspiring his peers to consider issues such as gender equality.
“In the program we learnt that in history there were differences in how men and women were treated. I learnt how I could make a difference, and it starts with how we talk about girls and how we treat them with respect,” said Keaton. “The Top Blokes mentors showed us that if we make a stand against the discrimination and disrespect we see, we can make a big difference in this area.”
Melissa is a firm believer in the quote, “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”
She strives to equip males with better decision-making skills and improved self-esteem to protect themselves, and others, from future consequences, including suicide and domestic violence. Taking a pro-active approach, and being aware of growing issues and trends facing young people is imperative to making a difference to future generations.
Melissa has been recognised for her dedication to helping youth by being named in Australia’s Top 100 Brightest Young Minds, in Australia’s Top 50 Young & Extraordinary, and the 2016 NSW Young Australian of the Year.
But Melissa is a realist and believes more open discussions in a non-judgmental environment on matters such as pornography, alcohol, drugs and mental health are needed, to provide young men with the skills and confidence to make better-informed decisions.
Top Blokes receives support from its ambassadors including prominent comedians, Akmal Saleh and Arj Barker who help inspire young men to become involved with the foundation. Young men that have completed the Top Blokes mentoring program have become Youth Ambassadors, helping raise awareness for the programs and giving back to their community.